How to Cope with the Loss of a Pet
On January 2, 2022, I lost my best friend. He was a goofy, loveable Doberman of 11 years named Ruger. He brought so much joy and life to my existence that just writing about him in the past tense feels wrong. It's only been 16 days, but I wanted to write about my experience moving through the grief process and share some of the ways I've been managing this devastating loss. Because it truly is a huge loss. People without pets may not understand, but when we lose our four-legged friend, we lose someone who loved us wholly and unconditionally. We lose a constant companion willing to accompany us on walks and car rides of all sorts, or even be our shadow as we move around the house. We lose a presence that is difficult to ignore and impossible to replace. So, my friend, if you have lost a beloved animal recently, here is my advice for navigating your feelings and coming to terms with your new day-to-day.
This might seem obvious, but honestly: cry. Cry as much as you need to. There is no shame in it. You may have days that you feel like you will never stop crying. This is normal. You may also have days when you thought you didn't need to cry anymore, but the sorrow weighing on your heart is still too heavy to bear. To this I say: cry some more. There is no time limit on your grief and having a good cry is sometimes the best way for us to express our heartbreak.
2. Comfort Items and Self Care
As you mourn, it's very much important to practice self care. This can range from making sure your take care of your basic needs (eating, taking meds, showering) to performing activities that bring you comfort. For me, this includes surrounding myself with various comfort items that appeal to all of my senses. (You can read more about my favorite comfort items here). I wear soft, cozy socks or slippers, wrap myself in warm blankets, and drink hot tea. I listen to calming music and wear pleasant-smelling essential oils. I care for myself as I would any sick person because I am heart-sick, and this type of sickness requires a gentle compassion to treat.
Journaling is a great way to get our feelings our of our heads and onto paper. Write what your sadness feels like. Write about all the happy memories you had with your pet. Write letters to them and imagine your words floating off the page and traveling across the Rainbow Bridge to your pet's spirit. What would they say to you if they could reply?
4. Little Rituals
One thing that makes losing a pet so hard is the disruption it often causes your normal routine. There are no longer feeding times, daily walks, or other such rituals to perform. I suggest creating new rituals that bring you comfort. For me, I engraved Ruger's paw print on a necklace and wear it close to my heart. I can touch it and think of him when I need to feel him close to me. I also have a pillow with his picture on it that I often hug and use to send kisses across the Rainbow Bridge. I framed a photo and placed it near the spot where he usually sat in the living room so that when I look over, I can still see him. Come up with a few routines or symbols that have meaning for you.
5. Talk with Someone
Talking about your experience is an important part of moving through your grief. Talk to a friend or trusted family member about your pet, and what it's like now that they're gone. Find a support group of people who understand what you're going through, and can offer encouragement to help you through the process. For me, I want the whole world to know about Ruger and how wonderful he was, so I'll talk to anyone who will listen. If you are experiencing especially depressed moods, it might even be worth talking to a grief counselor. The important thing is that talking to someone will often validate your feelings and help you process those difficult emotions.
6. Take All the Time You Need
One thing I know for certain is it's never "just a dog." If you need a little time off from work, take it. If you need to cry for a month, do it. Losing a pet has the same impact as losing a family member. Maybe getting a new puppy will help you honor your pet's memory and give you a new friend to love and provide a home for. Maybe you won't be ready for another animal for a long time. It's up to you. Nobody gets to tell you how you heal, or for how long. My hope is that some of this advice has been helpful, and that the painful part will be over quickly; for both of us.